You’re going to love Jonah Williams, the star of Robert Morgan’s latest novel, “Chasing the North Star.” He’s an 18-year-old slave who, in 1850, flees the S.C. plantation where earlier that day he’d been lashed for concealing two books.
So by the crust of a moon, Jonah slips out of the cabin where his family sleeps. No shoes. No map. Just a stolen hat and kitchen knife. And he’s off for the North, hoping to reach the N.C. mountains by daylight.
Morgan, a Hendersonville native who teaches at Cornell University, tells me he’d always wanted to write something about slavery and southern Appalachia.
“My great-great grandparents had taken in a runaway boy named Willie, who had been injured,” says Morgan. “For safety, they pretended they had bought him. Willie was killed by a falling tree while they were cutting timber.”
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Morgan says it was scary to think of writing from the point of view of a young African-American.
“As scary as when I first wrote from the point of view of a woman character,” he says. “But that’s what fiction is all about, isn’t it? Reaching across boundaries – boundaries of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, geography, time.”
Morgan will give a free reading and talk 7-8 p.m. Monday at Park Road Books.